Food online: Anti-Groupon and crowd-sourcing to the perfect dish

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In the run-up to the new year, several food analysts have predicted that the restaurant industry will be more crowd-sourced and digitally based in 2012 than ever before.

Take the growing crop of young online start-ups focused on dining.

Smartphone app Foodspotting goes beyond the Yelp model by giving restaurant guests a forum to find and recommend specific dishes nearby. Good eats get a “nom” or a digital blue ribbon from diners, who can upload photos into the Foodspotting community.

As of August, the app has been downloaded more than a million times. According to AdWeek, the founders are now experimenting with partnerships with other start-ups such as deals site Scoutmob that could create a “virtual blackboard” showcasing daily specials from eateries.


There’s also Treatful, a Bay Area company that offers personalized online gift certificates to high-end restaurants in cities such as Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.

The site, started by Stanford business school graduates Brent Looney and Hoon Kim, is known as the anti-Groupon, according to 7x7 magazine. Users no longer have to pick up or use fax machines for hard-copy gift cards –- instead, the no-registration, no-fee site sends it via e-mail on whatever date designated by the customer.

The company charges restaurants a commission for each certificate purchased -– a quarter of which are bought by corporate clients. Listed eateries in Los Angeles include Angelini Osteria, BLD, Jar and Hatfield’s Restaurants.

Foodily, a recipe and ingredient search engine that launched in February, clocked more than 100,000 downloads within 10 days of launching its iPhone app this fall.


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-- Tiffany Hsu